Thursday, February 18, 2016

TRUST: Do you know what it means?

I think we throw around phrases like “God has a plan!” and “Just trust God!” far too liberally these days. I’m a firm believer in using words in their proper context and from a point of genuine understanding and truth. I believe this so much, in fact, that I actually forbade my daughter from using the words “I’m sorry” for a period of time because she repeatedly used them incorrectly and without real meaning. (Okay . . . moments like these are probably what prompt my husband to affectionately call me "the warden.") My point is that I, too, use these phrases and am guilty of doing so without truly understanding what I am saying at times.  Trusting in Him and His divine plan often leads us to the jumping-off point in life to be overcome with peace that can only come from above . . . that which sees us through the unfathomable.

So this is my story--the path I traveled to understanding His plan--and one I have no intention of leaving.

Growing Up

I was more than blessed to have grown up in a Christian home surrounded by faith-filled extended and church family. I accepted Christ as my personal Savior at a very young age and rededicated my life to the Lord as a teenager. The believers’ language and speech have always been quite familiar and such an integral part of my everyday life. Hearing testimonials of fellow believers who were “called” to serve was quite commonplace.

Of course, my deep southern upbringing coincided with these experiences and the expectation that we are all to serve humbly and with great doses of southern hospitality! But to receive a “calling” into ministry is something different entirely, something I was sure I understood.

Then I got mine.

You see, I had spent my whole life as the child of small business owners--a childcare center, in fact. My mother was a teacher and a child at heart herself. Work ethic and contribution were instilled practically from birth, with education and matters of children and families a part of everyday living. This was especially true around the dinner table each evening. I began working in the family business at age 13 and have been working in some capacity ever since.

A Passion for Teaching

These experiences served me well and no doubt provided the best background for an Early Childhood major in college. I completed my Master’s degree in teaching and, like most first year teachers, couldn’t wait to begin shaping minds and living the idyllic one-room schoolhouse teacher scenario with nary a book out of place and a freshly polished apple each morning from adoring, knowledge-hungry students!

You are waiting for the shocking, disillusioned reality, aren’t you? Truth is, I did have a great first year (well, minus the polished apples and neat-as-a-pin classroom). I was newly married with no children of my own, so my students became “my children; they had my full attention and all of my heart. What strides were made that year! What connections! What growth! And that was just me! But, it was not meant to last.

My husband and I found out that we were expecting our first child that year (to be born in the summer, so as not to upset the school year, of course). She would be the first grandchild on my side of the family and the desire of my mother’s heart! Georgia was born in July. She was beautiful, alert, and precious beyond measure. But what should have been the most joyous and irreplaceable experience in the lives of new parents quickly turned to devastation. 

Broken Hearts

My mother, the proud new grandmother, suffered a seizure at work the day after I gave birth. The days that followed are now just a blur of doctors, surgeries, diagnoses, and talk of the brain tumor that turned our world upside down. All the while, I couldn’t be at her side . . . my mother’s side . . . my best friend’s side. We were in separate hospitals, which could just as easily have been a million miles apart. More emotions than we’ve ever known and pain that would eventually lead to strength were dispensed in large doses. 

Facing losing my mother was beyond devastating.  We had become the best of friends and she had been so excited to be becoming a Grammy Bear.  The deep sadness of knowing my children will never grow to know her and not having her here to ask questions as they grow, comes in tsunami size waves some days.  

We all go through pain here on earth, and none is like another. Age doesn’t determine what we know in this life; it’s our experiences and faith in the aftermath. At 26, my “life” had essentially just begun with newness aplenty--new wife, new teacher, new mother, new home. But by 29, I felt as though I had aged two decades. By then we had two children, my mother had gone to be with the Lord, the family's childcare business that had prepared me so well for my teaching career was now my own, and between running the business, teaching kindergarten, managing the books, and forging ahead with new construction to expand, I was nearly at the end of my lucid rope.

Losing my mother and, in turn, losing the path that I had chosen for my life, put me in a spiral of unending busyness and shallow filler. Those who know me best know my life still emits an air of “eau de on-the-go!” But this was something altogether different. I was so frantically trying to get back to a place in my life where everything made sense again and where I had purpose (of my own interpretation). I learned a lot in the years to come about priority, worth, and my own faith.

As a good southern Christian girl, I would never dream of interpreting the Lord’s intent of the experiences in my life. But I will say that in all suffering, there is hope and there is renewal, at least for me. My husband and I had been a bit inconsistent in our church attendance in the years leading up to my mother’s death. But in the months following her passing, I had a strong desire to return to my smaller childhood church family. We returned to the wise council that our pastor gave us before we married: "to grow closer to Christ will draw you closer to one another.” My husband gave his life to the Lord and found a genuine, close friendship with our pastor. Our relationship became so much more than we could have ever felt on our wedding day. My heart leaps with joy in knowing that he will spend eternity with our Lord! 

A New Path

So there I was, off my track, but discovering newness of life in our darkest hour. I’d be lying if I said returning to my home church and finding comfort in our renewed relationships was the glorious rescue from my hurt and floundering. Don’t misunderstand--I was still able to work, teach, cope, mother, and be a wife to my husband . . . ever the southern belle on the outside, but I was a “hot mess” on the inside. I did all of that and knew in my head how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to be with my own children, to be their teacher, and to be my own boss (for those of you who are self-employed, feel free to insert your thoughts here).

The problem was getting my heart to understand. Pressing on, I heeded the advice of family and others I held in high regard to take charge of my situation. I made changes within myself as an employer and teacher. Dealing with families on a large scale required much more than just tending to children and teaching them in the classroom. (The children are the easy part!) I was longing for the life I knew as a child--a tight family, a very close relationship with my mother, and happiness.

Driving in to work one day, I realized it was me; I desperately needed an attitude adjustment. I needed to quit mourning the life and plans I had had for myself. I needed to just get over myself! I needed to be in a relationship with my Savior and allow him to use me as He intended; little did I realize, He was already at work. 

Using My Gifts

What blessings I did have! What gifts I had been given! Relinquishing control is not one of my strong suits, but looking back, I found the strongest sense of control as a result of this revelation. God took control of my life in a more powerful way than I had ever experienced. Everything in my life up to that point started to make sense rather than feel to be in such disarray.

As is the case with most life-altering experiences, they come out of nowhere. Unexpected opportunities fell into place. I got the amazing chance to continue my own education and to draw on my own experience to become a certified parenting coach. Having been in the classroom for a number of years, becoming a parenting coach seemed to be a great resource to have in my line of work and an enhancement at best. (But there I go again thinking that I have it all figured out!)

Just like that first-year teacher experience so many years ago, I was eager to share with parents. And so began Happily Parenting.  Over those next few years, I rekindled a friendship from my high school days and church youth group. Andrea, in her ever graceful and passionately steadfast manner, jumped in with both feet! This unexpected partnership continues to prove Him again and again.  I am always amazed at His timing and putting people in place just when we need them.  Andrea, too, has had a couple twists and turns in the road, but those are hers to share in her own time. Together, with a tremendous behind-the-scenes support team of family and friends, we pressed on. Word began to spread, and paths that neither of us had EVER considered crossed ours; before we knew it, He was practically screaming.  It was one of those surreal moments when you realize YOU are that child taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r.  We all have at least one kid like that, right?

Happily Parenting . . . Happily Obeying

In the early part of last year, my husband and I sat down and really went through it.  God was calling again, and we knew we had to heed. The life that I had known (so well that it was practically my own identity) was about to change in a major way.  We announced our plans to close our childcare center. We had a full house of 120 children, dozens more waiting, seventeen employees, and all the families they were each connected to.  

“God has a plan; trust Him.” But really, God!? I just knew that I could do both. I mean, the thought of closing nearly sent me over the edge with guilt and distress for those I felt responsible to care for. But I also was experiencing peace about the decision to close. So I said, “Yes, Lord!” and I trusted Him.

It took me a bit to get my bearings after closing those doors. This was a life that I had no idea how to live, and that first Monday was far too quiet. But I was still, and I knew without a shadow of doubt we had acted in obedience. Over the next few months, I took on a long-term subbing position because I needed to fill my days--and come on, not being in the classroom was just NOT an option! But once again, God said, “No! FOCUS, daughter!” (I’m pretty sure there was a “hard-head” muttered in there somewhere too.)

So here I am, 14 years from that start of things . . . graced and supplied with all my life experiences, gifts, and talents He saw fit to use through me, and supported by those He chose just for His work.

Grounded in Biblical truths, I am thrilled to encourage parents to raise humble, God-fearing, well-behaved children.  It was my plan to forever teach children, but His plan includes reaching out to parents in order to strengthen families. So after reaching a point in my life where everything seems to have regained normalcy and my joy has returned, He smiles down and says, “Now, go do this to further My Kingdom."

As with many other times in my life, I was thrown curves aplenty. But time after time, it wasn't WHAT is around the bend, but WHO. Allowing Christ to take full control of my life and to use me as His vessel is beyond any sense of control I can muster on my own--and it is so much more fulfilling! Allowing the Holy Spirit to fill me and use me has brought more joy to my life than any path I could ever lay out on my own. Through my trials, doubts, and fears, He has proven Himself. What seemed to be an eternity has been but a blink and has brought me to the place I was meant to be!

I still have much to learn and a lot more growing to do . . . but how exciting it will be! I love what I do, I love getting to be with my own children at this time in their lives, and my identity no longer rests in me, but in Him.  I. Am. Trusting.

So that’s my story; how I came to be at this place in my life. 
Many details--some that are super sad, some that are waaay funny, and even more that are real life, you-gotta-be-kidding-me, in your face--are not included here.  Those details I’ll save (for now)! 


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